MYRA MELFORD QUINTET
The great jazz bands usually establish their greatness in their own lifetimes, instead of waiting for record collectors to anoint them retroactively, and Myra Melford's inspired and inspiring quintet is no exception. Her last several albums have drawn critics' raves by imaginatively addressing the signal concern of 90s jazz--how to work postfreedom improvisation into firm but pliant structures--and the wide range of listeners they've also attracted speaks to the music's breadth and clarity. Her accessible compositions range from lyric blues to cantilevered marches, and they all seek the balance of audacity and control exemplified by her artistic hero, Frank Lloyd Wright; they establish strong motifs, then open up to frame and color the solos. She skews the instrumentation of the archetypal jazz quintet just enough to get you to prick up your ears, replacing the bass with Erik Friedlander's fervid and versatile cello. Reedist Chris Speed and trumpeter Dave Douglas form an exhilarating, well-schooled frontline tandem: Speed's an important contributor to a half dozen New York bands (including Human Feel and Pachora, which borrows from Balkan and Moroccan music), and he brings a forceful fleetness to the tenor and especially the clarinet; the deservedly lionized Douglas plays in an even greater variety of projects, and his recent quartet recording, Magic Triangle (Arabesque), gets my vote for album of the year. Melford herself shines as a pianist as well as a composer and leader. Her motivic repetition, darting tone clusters, and sudden shifts in dynamics have elicited comparisons to Cecil Taylor, but she has her own things to say with the vocabulary Taylor introduced four decades ago; in fact, her spiky lines, translucent textures, and rounded attack have made her one of the more recognizable modern pianists. Clarinetist Francois Houle opens (see separate Critic's Choice). Monday, 7 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Michael Jackson.